What a Shower!

Yes, I could be talking about the members of practically any country's Government, but I'm actually thinking of myself and Messrs Ideal Standard!

We've had the same shower cubicle in our guest apartment since we first designed it. As some of you will remember, it's a quarter circle job, with sliding doors:

I was quite taken by the thought of it, when I first saw it in the catalogue at Ahmed Hashim's bathroom shop on Madina Street. "How novel", I thought. I hadn't imagined that it would be anything less than perfectly adequate for our needs or the needs of our guests.

I was right, naturally! However, even with the best will in the world, it couldn't be described as 'unadulterated luxury' could it? My increasing dissatisfaction with it, came to a head last year, when a (rather large) American gent happened to mention that he did struggle a bit in the shower, but of course he did actually manage.

'Managing' just isn't good enough, at Our Luxor! This gentleman's remark fired me to do something about the shower, as soon as funds (and time) became available. Mind you Dear Reader, these things cannot be rushed!

I've had a goodly number of new designs for the guest bathroom running through my mind, including remodelling it altogether. One of the biggest problems (the other being the lack of cash, obviously!) has been the fear of starting the job, and then not being able to manage to complete it before the arrival of our next guests. After all, we are in Luxor; where "Bukra, insh'Allah" (Tomorrow, God willing) can very quickly, and invariably does, become "Bad'n bukra, insh'Allah" (After tomorrow, God willing). This can go on for days, sometimes even weeks! Even with the longer gaps between bookings (since the full effects of the revolution tricked down to our backwards little town) we still haven't had a period where I was confident of completing the task.

Anyway, after many a visit to Ahmed Hashim's shop, and several others, (and hours of Freda's concerted financial calculations) we made our final decisions about exactly what we wanted to do, and started to source the various bits and bobs which we would require to make our guest bathroom into the luxurious place that our guests really deserved. We'd made a start with the new counter-top washbasin etc, and want to carry on with the addition of a more spacious and stylish shower enclosure complete with the (must have) 'rainfall' shower, and also the alternative of a water and power saving 'Eco' shower, as well. It's not actually up to us to enforce environmental awareness or practices onto our guests, but it's nice to give them options, isn't it?

Never mind, all was going swimmingly; finance secured, shower tray and enclosure chosen, pipework and plumbing fittings etc purchased, the Ideal Standard plumber had made a site visit and acquainted himself with the job at hand, even his charges had been agreed! So, the other night I got buckled in and removed the quarter circle enclosure, the towel rail, and the shiny black toilet seat (in case it got damaged)

and (at five past midnight) started to chisel away at the tiles around the shower tray. I'd just got started when there came a banging on the wall, presumably the people next door wanted to sleep? I hadn't actually realised the lateness of the hour, but you know how it is when you're enjoying yourself? Reluctantly, I left it till a more considerate time.

You can imagine my mixture of  despair and relief when Ahmed Hashim telephoned me, later that morning, and told me that the shower tray was not available until after one month, because of its unusual size. My despair was at not being able to finish the job before our next guests arrive, and the great relief was that the neighbours had objected to my banging away after midnight, and completely destroying the current shower into the bargain!

I was also pleased that I had decided to try to sell the old shower enclosure, and had therefore removed it properly and carefully, without damage; pheeewww! It didn't take long to reinstate everything, with the only trace of interference being a few chisel marks on one of the pieces of tile below the actual shower tray, I think we'll get away with that, though.

It's all to do with Horsepower!

Well well! It seems no time at all since we had problems with our A/C, but like the daytime and the night, they are bound to come around. And, of course whenever that time is, it's when you actually need them to be working properly, it's been reaching towards the 50 degree mark on some afternoons here on our little roof terrace!

I'm sure that you will have heard the old adage that "You get what you pay for." It sure seems that it's true as far as A/C units go, here's a little FREE word of advice "DON'T BUY 'AMERICOOL' AIR CONDITIONERS". I won't bore you with the saga of our multifarious air-conditioning units and their differing configurations, suffice it to say that because it's hot, they won't work.  

Obviously, in this unseasonable heat and without the benefit of the A/C, sleeping becomes difficult and tempers tend to become ragged,  adding to the general sense of unrest. You, being a regular aficionado of my ramblings Dear Reader, will no doubt recall the nightmare scenarios with the various A/C 'engineers' with whom we've dealt in the past. I've thankfully blotted their names from my memory, and we now have a reliable and knowledgeable engineer. He arrived almost on time to have a look at the Americool, one and a half horsepower, unit in our bedroom.

I knew that it required a good clean out, and that this should increase it's effectiveness, but I was appalled at the amount of muck that came out of it:

After half stripping the unit down, they washed it in our bathroom, with the shower hose and a little 'Gener-Al*' floor cleaner. (* That's how it's pronounced, it's really called 'General'.) Naturally, being Egyptian, they left the floor and everything for us to clean after they'd left.

Although I had expected a marked improvement, I wasn't prepared to be nearly blown off my feet by the reinvigorated blast of cold air emitting from the unit! Thankfully, the temperature has dropped a little since it was cleaned, so everything has been hunky-dory, but I'm fully expecting the worst, once the temperature rises again to over 45/46. I've asked the man to return and do the same to the other one we have, at his earliest convenience! Even though I am delighted with the change in performance, I really think that a better quality A/C unit would be the job, and maybe a two horsepower one, just to make sure.

Talking about 'horsepower': last night we had the privilege of being the very first people to be pulled along by Farid, the latest of Mr Ahmed Badawi's horses to be trained as a carriage horse. We'd been scoffing English cake at the Nile Palace, and had rang Ahmed to come and collect us, as we had quite a bit of shopping to get and carry home. He turned up with brother Samir driving what looked like a very small horse (in comparison to Edward, our usual trusty steed) in between the shafts. Ahmed was very excited, and told us that they were giving Farid his first solo lesson, just for an hour or so. I'm sure that many of you will have seen caleches with a younger, smaller horse tied to the one actually pulling the caleche along; this is the first stage in their training and it gets them used to the traffic and noise with which they will have to contend during their working lives.

Farid performed admirably, except for not being able to keep the conveyance in a straight line, and having a little difficulty negotiating left-hand turns. He wasn't yet used to answering the guidance of the reins. We had a good old laugh as poor Ahmed had to keep leaping to the ground to steer Farid away from parked cars, or around a tight corner before he ran straight into a wall!!! (Actually, I was rather worried that Ahmed would end up under the carriage wheels!)

We even ventured into the chaotic traffic of Television Street and Manchia, places we try to keep clear of with the caleche in  normal circumstances, where Farid seemed to not even notice the surrounding Bedlam! I'm sure that his father (Edward) will be proud of him as he gets bigger, stronger and more confident. It was 'cool' to see this part of his training, and I was really pleased at Ahmed's and Samir's patience and gentleness with the young horse. 10 out of 10, I think.

Cake Comparisons?

I think I'm turning into a sort of sandwich-board-man for the Steigenberger Nile Palace! Don't worry, I'm not 'in their pocket', but it's not for the want of trying. (There's no way that I can induce them to give me a discount or preferential treatment of any kind, the mean so-and-so's!!!)

Did I tell you about the Winter Palace putting on a cover charge? Well (you know my memory) just in case I haven't; they've decided to levy an entrance fee of 50le, which can be reclaimed against whatever you spend whilst you're in the hotel. Obviously, we really cannot afford to fork out twice as much as normal, just to enjoy the splendid 'olde worlde' charm of the place. I know that tourists can recoup it with just a couple of beers or a cocktail, but that's a whole different kettle of fish!

So, we're visiting our other two choices of hotel more often. The good old Etap (El Luxor Hotel) is still OK, but there seems to be fewer and fewer foreign tourists staying there to provide us with our little 'light entertainment'. The tea and Nescafe are the same price as at the Nile Palace, but you don't get the little, half chocolate coated, coconut macaroons. But, in saying that, the Etap does advertise free English cake between four o'clock and six. Mind you, this is a bit hitty-missy! Often there's non to be had at all, and sometimes it's still frozen, and has to be defrosted before serving. This invariably means that you've finished your tea before it arrives! Even then, it's possibly still frozen in the middle, or hot enough to burn your lips! When it's not free, it's 10le for two slices.

The old Food and Beverage Manager left the Nile Palace a few weeks ago. He was a nice bloke, whom we'd surreptitiously Christened 'Mao Tse Tung', because of his slightly oriental appearance. His replacement looks nothing out of the ordinary, and has no real distinguishing facets, in fact, he could easily be mistaken for an Englishman. So, that's his new name; 'The Englishman'! Along with being a hands-on manager (we came across him shifting tables the other night) he's also trying new things on the menu.

That above is what we've had there the past two nights. Yes, it's English cake, but unlike any we've had previously. It's coated down either side with icing sugar, and it's actually lightly spiced, utterly scrumptious! And, three goodly sized pieces for 13le! By the time Freda and I have messed about with pots of boiling water and the hot milk for her Nescafe, I easily managed four cups of tea, and she, three cups of coffee. Half a slice of cake with each of the first three cups and the coconut macaroon with the last. I can tell you; you certainly know you've had something to eat! (And people to watch all the way through, what more could a man want?)

I've got to hand it to the management and staff at the NP, they're making the running for the rest to follow, and they're bloomin' good at it and getting better!

Just as a little aside:

As we were taking a stroll along the Corniche, we came across some caleche horses bathing, there must have been about 10 of them cavorting among the dead Nile cruisers. They were certainly enjoying the cooling effect. It's funny that they're next to the Emely, as several would-be cruise tourists are still being offered this boat. Sorry, but I don't think so!

Yalla, President Mohamed, when are you going to get things moving?

We've just been watching an episode of 'Foyle's War', it's an excellent series. It's got me wondering though; I cannot help but wonder just how those men, those who weren't allowed to actually 'join up', really felt about not doing their bit for the war effort by being at the (metaphorical) front, about their seeming uselessness?

That strand of thought also echoed in my mind as regards Luxor's situation in this time of so much uncertainty and fear among the general Egyptian population!

In one way, here in Luxor, we've really been uninfected by all the trouble and strife which regularly seems to erupt in Cairo and the other northern 'hot-spots', about which we keep on reading and seeing on our TV screens.  But the people here in Luxor aren't at all happy with Mr Morsi's current handling of things; simply because they feel that they are being sacrificed for the sake of their northern compatriots! I hear grumblings about the 'men-with-beards' everywhere I go! It seems fairly obvious to me that the people of Luxor want no more to do with either the modern and liberal revolutionaries, or the Brotherhood and their hardline friends. The revolution's legacy of physical and financial hardship and (seemingly deliberately engineered) disadvantage are driving them to wish for the return of Mr Mubarak, or one of his henchmen (Shafiq?) at least!

I cannot tell you how many of my Egyptian friends have often regaled me, over the years, about the Egyptian 'life' being one of continual hardship. They understand this, and have learned to accept it without much complaint, as they have been doing during several thousands of years of being oppressed by despotic rulers; from Pharaohs to the Arabs, from the Turks to the Egyptian Generals, and that's not even mentioning the differing European interlopers! But it now seems that the current mish-mash which purports to be governing them, is going too far!

As well as there being next to no tourists from which the locals can make their living, there are now electricity (and water) cuts, without warning, three four and five times per day! Thank heaven, we've only had the one so far today (Thursday), but yesterday we had three; for an hour just before lunchtime, another hour at about 4:30 in the afternoon, and a third at 10:30 for an hour and forty minutes! With the outside temperature being over 47 degrees Centigrade that afternoon, and the walls of our little flat being too hot to keep your hand on; we baled out by 5pm, and sought the air-conditioned refuge of the Nile Palace. The mini-bus stopped, however, at the junction with St Joseph Street, as Khaled Ibn El Walid Street was blocked a few yards farther on. We had to walk from there.

The road blockage was outside the house of the General of the Police (that one directly before the Sonesta). There were about four women and half a dozen young men and boys sitting in the middle of the road! Several of the men and boys were in the middle of their prayerful prostrations. One young man was very highly agitated and very emotional. Of course, I asked  some bystanders what the problem was; only to be told that these people were making many demands of the police.(?)

In a telephone call later that evening, I was told that (so far) 15 people had died in Luxor as a direct result of these power cuts! Perhaps that was the reason for the emotional 'sit down' outside the General's house? Who knows? The power cuts were certainly the reason behind the protest outside the Governor's office this afternoon! Even Egyptians, can only take so much!

But still, Luxor isn't Cairo! I have hoped that Mr Morsi was the good man that he originally seemed to be, even though he and I don't share the same views on religion, and that he actually was determined (as he had said he was) to govern "for all Egyptians", but it's beginning to seem as though the population of Upper Egypt are being punished for the waywardness of the northerners who took the road to revolution and are now constantly making waves against the elected President and what passes for his government.

As usual; the Upper Egyptians are left to sink or swim, and with their ingrained sense of oppressed victimhood they must surely now feel desolate indeed! God bless them and help them, for as the unrelenting 50 degree heat of summer, plus the spectre of starvation, looms, they certainly need it!

Another Fine Mess!!!!

We're back! Not a bad flight with our friends easyJet:

I had stocked up with a selection of pies from John the butcher in Pelaw, and thoroughly enjoyed my two, with a relatively large slice of his lovely black pudding! My 'tablet' Christmas gift and headphones were also a great boon, as I now have even more of my depressing music on it (that's Freda's opinion) and I could listen to it without being harassed! Five and a half hours of a mixture of Steeleye, the Watersons, Swan Arcade, Sonny Boy Williamson, Cream, the Stones, Melanie Safka, the Spooky Men, Bob Dylan and the incomparable Leonard Cohen, and many others who don't get much of an airing on today's wireless!

For the first time I can remember, I had a window seat on the port side, so made the most of it by taking a picture or two:

It must be de rigueur to have a shot of the coastline as one passes over? And the desolate wastes of the desert I always find curiously enticing! I cannot help but imagine myself along with John Mills, struggling through the Qattara Depression in that old Austin ambulance in the wonderful film "Ice Cold in Alex".

Did I ever tell you that I used to be a member of the 'Sons of the Desert'? "What, what?" I can almost hear you cry.

Actually, it's the title of a 1933 Laurel and Hardy movie; that just might give the game away as to what and who the 'Sons of the Desert' were and are. That's right Dear Reader, we were and are fans of the most hilarious double act ever created; Stan Laurel and Oliver 'Babe' Hardy. Here's an advert for the film:

The various (worldwide) groups of fans were organised into 'Tents' (pretty obvious, eh?) and held regular meetings where at least one film would be watched, lots of booze drunk (except by those teetotallers [guess who] who would be driving their drunken mates home, of course) and memorabilia pored over and swapped etc.

Our Tent was at North Shields, once the home town of Stan Laurel before he went to the USA and made it big. We also had occasional visits to other Tents, and I remember well going to the Tent at Carlisle, I provided the coach which I drove myself. (I decided to wear my bowler hat, just for effect, and the man who ran the Carlisle Tent asked if I always wore it while driving!) He also ran the 'Laurel and Hardy Museum' at Ulverston, Stan's birthplace, and the 'Cars of the Stars' motor museum in Carlisle, which were both very interesting. I wonder if they're still there?

Anyway, I'm sure that there cannot be many of you who haven't heard, or didn't recognise, that most famous of quotes from our big fat mate Ollie: "That's another fine mess you've gotten me into!" Which brings me back to part of the subject of today's offering; we came back to Luxor, and a right old mess! Although, not in the strictly accurate meaning of the word 'mess', what we actually had (or not) was NO WATER!

Apparently, the water pump had been operating by itself when no-one was in the flat. Being worried that the pump would burn itself out, Adam (Coffeeshop Adam from over the road) had turned off the water and switched off the pump. He also had a 'plumber' out to see what the trouble was. Being a 'really plumber', he checked everything in the flat before fiddling with the adjustments of the electronic 'Automatique' and the pressure regulating valve, whilst not noticing that the water filter, in its see-through cannister, was actually clogged solid! (OK, I was supposed to change the filters and switch off the water before we left, but I forgot; I've already been reprimanded and had my chocolate rations withheld!)

Poor Freda had to cope with the unpacking and initial cleaning (so we could at least get into bed) by herself, while I found friend 'Hani the Plumber' and we tried to get something moving. Eventually, I decided that it wasn't the 'Automatique', which Hani was convinced that it was, but that the pressure regulator had been screwed right down till it wouldn't allow water through at all! After stripping, cleaning and adjusting the regulator, we managed to get the pump to work, but only by switching it on and off manually; the 'Automatique' was actually faulty and has been replaced last night. It was really good of Hani and his mate Ayman to come out and sort it out for us, as they are both Coptic Christians and yesterday was their 'Good Friday'!

Having my dodgy legs, still, I'm not overly fussed about traipsing up and down ladders at the moment, not that I ever was mind you! So we've had our carpenter mate Abdu, from New Karnak, back to do the finishing off of the fascia on the new roof. It entailed another couple of sheets of the Islamic patterned latticework and 20 metres of architrave, but that's not all. He's coming back tomorrow to try and get it finished before Monday. As you should all know, Dear Readers, Monday is the Pharaonic festival of 'Sniffing the Breeze', where both Christians and Muslims join together to welcome in the Summer. (Or, is it more to do with the expected 'inundation' does anyone know?) Whatever! I expect that it'll be difficult to find anyone willing to work on that day.

Here are a couple of pics, just to remind you of how we left the new roof when we went on holiday to Windy Nook:

Mentioning Easter, reminded me that they're getting on with our new Coptic Church! The bell-tower lights are busy being sorted out:

I promise that I'll get you a better picture eventually.

Copy-catting is still as rife as ever here. I was surprised to see the coach in the following picture. It looks brand new, and has Neoplan badges on the front. It's a two axle Neoplan Cityliner, but they don't make them anymore.

 A-ha, all was revealed when it passed me! Although I didn't have time to get a snap, you can believe me when I tell you that the back panel and rear window were all wrong, and it had Chinese badges all over!!!!!!

On top of everything else which is currently going wrong here in Egypt, there is now a shortage of bottled drinking water! The mains tap water is actually quite safe to drink here in Luxor. Although I wouldn't recommend drinking it for long periods (Egyptians seem to suffer a lot of urinary tract problems) I firmly believe that the high concentration of chlorine in it would kill 99% of all known germs. (That sounds familiar, doesn't it?) Our filter system removes the sand particles down to 5 microns, and the activated carbon filter is supposed to remove the taste of the chlorine before it gets to the actual taps. But I still prefer the taste of the bottled vintage!

It seems, however, that at least one well from which the bottled water is drawn has become contaminated, and has been closed down, and Nestle (who produce 60% of the bottled water in Egypt) had a fire which has seriously disrupted their production. It's not looking too good, and it's against the law to import drinking water! I'd better find some before our next guests arrive on Wednesday, hadn't I?

I'd better be off to bed now, or I won't be getting up in the morning. Good  night, and God bless.